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January 22, 2019

Brewer's SnapSpace Solutions looking for second site to keep pace with its growth

Photo / Kevin Bennett
Photo / Kevin Bennett
On the runway at Bangor International Airport Saturday to see off a shipment of comfort stations to typhoon-ravaged Saipan were Brien Walton, director of Husson University's Center for Family Business and the CEO of Acadia Capital Management II, Inc.; Chad Walton, chief executive officer of SnapSpace Solutions Inc., and Dexter Cowperthwaite, chief operating officer of SnapSpace.

When two SnapSpace Solutions Inc.'s buildings were loaded, fully constructed, into the cargo hold of a jumbo jet Saturday morning at Bangor International Airport, it represented a milestone for the Brewer company.

But the shipment of restroom structures to typhoon-ravaged Saipan under the company's first Federal Emergency Management Agency contract is only a small part of what's going on with SnapSpace, which makes structures from recycled steel shipping containers.

"I love building stuff," said CEO Chad Walton in a phone interview from Florida, where he's overseeing construction of a 14-unit building for homeless veterans in Delray, as well as getting started on a new SnapSpace manufacturing plant.

Closer to home, he's looking for a second Maine manufacturing site after outgrowing the 126,000-square-foot building the company has been in since 2011.

SnapSpace, founded in 2003, will hire and train approximately 25 full-time employees and 50 part-time employees and subcontractors in the near future, he said.

Aside from the Florida manufacturing plant, the company also has manufacturing affiliates and capacity in Connecticut and South Carolina.

Brien Walton [no relation], director of Husson University's Center for Family Business, who is working with the company on finding a new site, said the company's revenue increased 550% in 2018.

"SnapSpace is "a quiet company that's about to roar," Brien Walton said.

Ready to boom

Husson's Walton said that Chad Walton is "negotiating a contract that could potentially triple his 2018 revenue in just three months."

Chad Walton said he can't make details public yet, but he has two announcements coming in the next month to six weeks "that are really big."

One will "really help Maine people in need," he said.

He brought SnapSpace to the Bangor area in 2010, to fill the economic hole left by the closing of the ZF Lemforder manufacturing plant in Brewer in 2010, which he purchased in 2011.

The company still operates out of the building, though as a tenant after Walton sold the building two years ago so he could concentrate on the company.

The search for an additional Maine site — the company will still operate in the current one — has been narrowed down to two or three across the state.

Chad Walton couldn't give more details, but said that the second location "will be somewhere we can expand if we need to."

The new Opportunity Zone tax regulations, which reward long-term capital investment in 32 economically challenged zones in Maine, fits with SnapSpace's growth, Brien Walton told Mainebiz. He is also CEO of Acadia Capital Management II Inc., which is a certified community economic development entity that helps economically disadvantaged areas leverage New Markets Tax Credits and Opportunity Zone funds. He worked with the town of Lincoln to establish the first municipality-based Opportunity Zone fund in the U.S.

He was introduced to Chad Walton last year by an investor from Florida who wanted him to evaluate the company's growth potential.

"Most people are looking at the zones for real estate development," he said. "But the primary intent of the law is to support scalable business growth in economically distressed communities, so there is a lot more potential than people realize and those zones will facilitate the expansion of SnapSpace Solutions."

Husson students are supporting the company by creating adaptive and scalable business administration strategies that allow the company to focus on customer acquisition, he added.

'Cool to be part of that'

Courtesy / The Black Box
Courtesy / The Black Box
The Black Box, a retail incubator in Portland made of repurposed shipping containers by SnapSpace.

Chad Walton, who has launched a number of business ventures over the past four decades, said aside from the success he's having with SnapSpace, he's also having fun.

"It's like playing with big Legos every day," he said.

Creating spaces from recycled shipping containers enables the company to cut down the time it takes to construct a traditional stick-built project. For example, SnapSpace can build a three bedroom, tw- bath, 1,280-square-foot home in weeks rather than months — even in the middle of winter, last week's news release said.

The company has built everything from the Maine Beer Box to two high-end New York houses to a swimming pool.

SnapSpace made news last fall when it built the Black Box commercial space on Washington Avenue in Portland. It was the city's first retail space built from shipping containers.

Until the FEMA contract for the Saipan comfort stations, no two SnapSpace structures have been the same, Chad Walton said.

"It's the first time we ever made two of the same thing," he said.

The company shipped four of the 320-square-foot buildings — two on Saturday morning and two on Jan. 9.

The crowd gathered on the snow-covered runway for Saturday's shipment included "people from all over the place," including aircraft officials and an official from FEMA.

"It was really cool to be part of that," he said.

In an way it's full circle — he first conceived of the idea in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, though he didn't start the company until 2010.

The Saipan contract touched him in a way previous SnapSpace projects haven't.

"It's the first time I've ever been in a position where I can truly help people who really need it," he said. "It's a great feeling to help people who truly, truly need it."

The restroom units were constructed for the school system, and installing them will allow kids to get back to school for the first time since the October typhoon in Saipan, which is the largest of the U.S. Mariana Islands in the western Pacific.

The buildings were fully constructed in Brewer. When the comfort stations arrive in Saipan, "It's plug and play," he said, explaining that there's no construction required.

Chad Walton said he saw the potential of the container company from the start, and he expected it to be successful, but he didn't foresee the direction it would go in.

While it was the first FEMA contract, he's also provided shelters for other disaster-ravaged areas, including after hurricanes in Florida.

"To see the faces of people who have lost everything, they have nowhere to go, is really something," he said. "People who could afford it the least are the ones who have lost the most, they've got no means to get back on their feet."

He said he's been involved in a lot of startups over the past 40 years, but has put much of his other work aside to focus on SnapSpace Solutions.

"We've got some pretty amazing opportunities coming," he said.

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